Our first understanding of criticism self criticism (CSC) was as a tool for internal sharpening within a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist (which today is principally Maoist) cadre organization. Some of our members are also members of a local mass organization. A couple months into the development of this newer mass organization, CSC was brought into the org. The following is a clarification of some of the things we’ve learned about criticism through practice.
In a CSC meeting of members of Movimento Femenino Popular (Popular Women’s Movement) in Peru, criticism was outlined with these steps:
1. Point out the error committed by one of the comrades.
2. Ask if it’s true or not.
3. Analyze the error to be able to overcome it.
4. Look for ways to overcome the error so the comrade will better herself.
In the same video it was also stressed that the reasons for criticism must be understood deeply and particularly here they were talking about overcoming individualism.
CRITICISM: A LIFEBOAT AMIDST A SEA OF LIBERALISM
The fact that criticism is usually seen as an inherently bad thing comes from the reality that in today’s “left”, criticism is non-existent. In order for comrades to want more criticism and not less, it should be given in the best way possible. But most importantly, criticism should follow a correct Maoist political line. When comrades come from more liberal backgrounds, any sort of pushback is seen as an attack. Any sort of correction or directed thought at a particular person is seen as a personal attack. Liberals in this country cannot separate personhood with politics and therefore do not see the ability for transformation. We do not want to mechanically separate the person from their politics, however through struggle many people can transform out of their incorrect ideas and into revolutionaries. The liberal essentializing of every person with where their politics are right now is a view that negates transformation. In practice, this looks like getting very defensive when one’s incorrect ideas are criticized. For example, how many times have you been completely shaken to your core because somebody assertively corrected you for using incorrect pronouns to describe a trans person? How often did that manifest in the belief that the person correcting you was doing it out of spite? How often has that lead to feeling like you were just attacked and feeling like your intentions were totally misconstrued? Many of us in the past mistakenly felt this way. This is one example but what’s being described is the initial shock at political criticism in a left that allows incorrect practice to run rampant. This is the state of politics in this imperialist country, where Maoist criticism is objectively discouraged because the liberal left is very cozy in its current practice. Without CSC we will frankly drown in the dominant liberal left because our practice will become static.
When a criticism is correct and is united with and rectified, it is a tool for principled unity. But when criticism is always associated with negative reactions, objectively it discourages comrades from giving criticism because they view it as something bad that they would like to experience as little as possible. In this situation where comrades hold back criticism, “unity” within an organization can easily become unprincipled. Unprincipled unity is not unity at all because it puts political line on the backburner. Principled unity necessitates raising consciousness and correcting mistakes. Without correcting mistakes of individuals within an organization, we are doing nothing to raise people up to make qualitative breaks with their liberal or otherwise mistaken ideas. Criticism should be encouraged because we need it in order to improve. Criticism is a tool for principled unity which is why it is not an inherently negative thing. The principled unity that we get out of correct criticism is positive because it can only help us grow.
The following is from a document written by a mass organization in Charlotte:
“Specifically to address what was said here about criticism/ self criticism, not every criticism is correct and that’s why we don’t hold our members to any and all criticism given by another member. Criticism, like everything, has a class background. For example, one comrade could receive two contradictory criticisms about the same situation from two different people. Based on the fact that it is criticism alone does not mean it should always be wholly united with. To unite with any criticism just because it is said as criticism is liberal and does not sharpen practice because criticism propagates ideas about work and not all ideas about work are correct.”….”CSC for a mass organization is a way to hear the truth about our work from people we trust so that as a whole we become better. We do see the importance of this tool and we have standards for members but CSC for a mass organization is not a way to address antagonistic contradictions and should be done in good faith.”
The quote above was written a couple months ago and as we have developed as Maoists since then we encourage people reading this to criticize it where it needs to be.
THE NECESSITY OF DIRECT CRITICISM
Some comrades, including ourselves, have shied away from direct criticism, scared that it would push people away. It does make sense to have a strong relationship based in some uniting principles before giving direct criticism to a person randomly, to avoid doing call-out culture and calling it “criticism”. However, practice has shown us that when direct or fundamental criticism is concealed for too long it makes things much harder and just makes more work that we have to make up for later to correct mistaken ideas. Timing and patience are important but when we take that too far and use it as an excuse to not give a comrade a needed criticism, it sets the wrong political precedent, encourages political mistakes, and also encourages the idea that criticism is a punishment and a “bad” thing to be avoided. On the contrary, criticism is not just something we should add on every once in awhile, but actually a vital tool that should be cherished and used to sharpen our practice. Trying to avoid the matter of direct criticisms causes confusion and harms practice. The leap from theory to practice, specifically from Maoist theory to practice in mass work, means that criticism and self-criticism are necessary. Recently we started doing mass work CSC sessions in public, so that mistakes can increasingly be corrected as soon as they come up, and also because there is a propaganda element to doing this in the open.
We understand that in a left in which call-out culture has hegemony, criticism is at first seen as a negative. This is because the postmodernists often give “critiques” that are not geared toward actual political unity, and are instead intended as ways to gain social capital and an individual following. Most importantly, though, the political character of postmodern “critiques” is bankrupt because even if the intention were to foster unity, it would be for unity of identity politics. Identity politics can never make a revolution but this document lacks the scope to be able to go into this topic deeply.
With regards to the fear that honest criticism will turn people away, we have learned through some difficult lessons that this fear truly harms us. As communists we value subjective intervention of a revolutionary force, a vanguard party, to come in and lead the proletariat to change their objective conditions which are caused by capitalism. This line of thinking leads us to the conclusion that the mistakes of those who we aim to transform are, to an extent, our own mistakes if we fail to make the subjective intervention of criticism. One comrade cannot complain about a mistake another comrade made, if they knew this mistake was a pattern and did not work to transform the other comrade’s thinking on said issue. Only with a revolutionary theory can we have revolutionary practice, like Lenin said, and criticism is the tool that represents that vital theory. To fail to criticize when necessary is to unite with incorrect ideas, and uniting with incorrect things for too long represents a compromise in politics.
“Patience has its limits. Take it too far, and it’s cowardice.”
This cowardice represents the modern revisionists who do nothing to work with the masses and prepare for actual revolution. The revisionists adhere to an insurrectionary line that in practice is cowardice. Insurrection today is most commonly conveyed with the phrase “it’s not the right time yet”. It also applies to holding back criticism for too long and not defending the revolutionary proletarian line against the bourgeois line. This is why the revisionists don’t practice CSC, because they do not understand the urgency of political line, and even if they appropriate the Maoist tool of CSC they hollow out its politics, rendering it useless. With rejection of the insurrectionary thinking that accompanies unprincipled unity we want to bring criticism into our practice every day.
We have also made the mistake of saying criticisms generally when the particular criticism was aimed at one person. This is liberalism and is not effective becuase it is sugar-coating. It does not make sense to criticize the entire group when only one person needs the criticism. Also, to prevent incorrect lines from spreading to hold influence with multiple people, the source of the incorrect line must be confronted directly.
ON THE QUESTION OF “NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT”
Within the mass organization it has come up that communists should devote just as much time to the “good” things in a systematic way as we do to “bad” things, and systematize positive reinforcement. Yes, credit should be given where it’s due, but in essence this is a liberal argument because it stems from the idea that criticism is a negative thing. First, we must attempt to analyze this using dialectical materialism by ‘analyzing concrete reality from concrete conditions’, examining the living contradictions that move the world. Would mistakes exist without correctness? Indeed, the basis of Maoist criticism is the correctness of Maoist politics. Is there a dialectical unity of opposites between lines that emerge in two-line struggle? Would the bourgeois line exist without the proletarian revolutionary line to oppose it? Would the bourgeoisie exist without the proletariat? In the attempt to resolve a contradiction, two lines emerge. For example, the fundamental question of how to resolve the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeouisie. The line of using revolutionary violence to overthrow the bourgeoisie separates from the line of “voting in socialism”. Some contradictions are harder to analyze than others but in general there is usually one line that objectively helps the bourgeiosie and enforces the status quo, and another line that sharpens practice for aims of proletarian revolution.
The argument surrounding positive reinforcement claims that since criticism is a negative, there should be a positive to balance it out. This represents a liquidation of criticism because it aims to redirect. For us to say that we do just as many good things as we do bad things would be mechanical and incorrect. To say that we should devote just as much time to rewards as we do to punishment not only comes from an incorrect understanding of criticism (as punishment), but also understands CSC in a very quantitative fashion. Quantitative factors place primary importance on the amount of something, in this case on making equal the amount of time spent on praise as that spent on criticism. When we view criticism in a quantitative fashion we hold back from giving necessary criticisms with the excuse that we’ve already given our comrades “enough” criticism in a given unit of time. It is true that leadership should not be overbearing and should work to give criticisms that foster transformation and do not overwhelm a person in a commandist manner. At the same time, our time devoted to the study of Maoism (ideological training) should be the positive reinforcement we seek. We must be ruthlessly critical and embrace the struggle to, every day, create an internal revolution against our old ways of thinking. Without the struggle between dominant bourgeois ideas and revolutionary proletarian ideas Maoism would not exist. Struggle should be a constant in our practice because everything communists stand for aims to destroy the current system in every way. We should not give criticism for the sake of criticism, we should give it for the sake of making a revolution against the practice that’s being criticized and the idea that reflects it. Similarly, we should not give praise for the sake of praise but only when it is absolutely represents revolutionary ideas in practice.
‘The correct line is born out of struggle with the incorrect line.’ Within a mass organization obviously not everyone will be a Maoist and it is by no means a prerequisite or requirement to be one in order to be a mass org member. For this to be a requirement would mean that no one transforms into a Maoist through practice in the mass organization because no one would come in unless they already knew the ins and outs of MLM. However, within every organization there will be a particular set of politics that gain dominance. Disagreements and the decisions that follow them determine which politics gain power. We are clear from the beginning that in every organization that we devote large amounts of time to, we seek for Maoism to be those politics that gain dominance. Without understanding that everything has a political background, vaccuums of power are made and anyone can come in and fill that vaccuum with some other set of politics. And in today’s political climate, if Maoist politics are not in power, then the politics that are in power will objectively help capitalism remain in place. Without capitalism, Maoism would not exist, and without criticism against capitalist ideas, revolution cannot exist.
DON’T SHY AWAY FROM CRITICISM!
HAVE THE COURAGE TO CRITICIZE DIRECTLY!
EMPHASIZE IDEOLOGICAL TRAINING!
USING CRITICISM, PROPAGATE MAOISM.
–Queen City Maoist Collective
The Movimento femenino popular video which was referenced in the first section and screenshotted for the cover photo can be found here: